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The Touchstone Edith Wharton

Chapter XIV

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She moved over to him and laid a hesitating hand on his. His head was bent and he did not change his attitude. She sat down beside him without speaking; but their silences now were fertile as rain-clouds--they quickened the seeds of understanding.

At length he looked up. "I don't know," he said, "what spirits have come to live in the house of evil that I built--but you're there and that's enough for me. It's strange," he went on after another pause, "she wished the best for me so often, and now, at last, it's through her that it's come to me. But for her I shouldn't have known you--it's through her that I've found you. Sometimes, do you know?--that makes it hardest--makes me most intolerable to myself. Can't you see that it's the worst thing I've got to face? I sometimes think I could have borne it better if you hadn't understood! I took everything from her--everything-- even to the poor shelter of loyalty she'd trusted in--the only thing I could have left her!--I took everything from her, I deceived her, I despoiled her, I destroyed her--and she's given me YOU in return!"

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His wife's cry caught him up. "It isn't that she's given ME to you--it is that she's given you to yourself." She leaned to him as though swept forward on a wave of pity. "Don't you see," she went on, as his eyes hung on her, "that that's the gift you can't escape from, the debt you're pledged to acquit? Don't you see that you've never before been what she thought you, and that now, so wonderfully, she's made you into the man she loved? THAT'S worth suffering for, worth dying for, to a woman--that's the gift she would have wished to give!"

"Ah," he cried, "but woe to him by whom it cometh. What did I ever give her?"

"The happiness of giving," she said.

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The Touchstone
Edith Wharton

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